WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden stirred up a hornet’s nest Sunday when he seemingly spoke out in favor of marriage equality. Then on Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan also came out in favor of marriage equality.
"The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition," Vice President Biden told host David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
"Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they are marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals …”
Biden was asked whether President Barack Obama would fully evolve on the marriage issue.
"Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The President sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that," Biden said.
The Vice President also gave a shout-out of “Will & Grace,” the NBC sitcom that aired from 1998 to 2006, for changing public opinion on gay and lesbians.
“I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far,” Biden said. “People fear that is different and now they’re beginning to understand."
Biden’s comments went viral and almost immediately Biden and the White House began spinning the story in an attempt to show that Obama has not yet fully “evolved” on the issue.
The Vice President quickly clarified his remarks to the media, saying that he was speaking from his heart and not as a key member of the Obama Administration. And the White House told reporters that Biden’s remarks did not reflect any change in the Administration’s official position on marriage equality.
Still, gay rights groups took Biden’s words to heart.
"We are encouraged by Vice President Biden's comments, who rightly articulated that loving and committed gay and lesbian couples should be treated equally. Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples," said Joe Solmonese, outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Vice President Biden took an important step toward joining former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, and a growing majority of Americans who support marriage equality for their gay and lesbian friends, family and neighbors,” said Herndon Graddick, president of GLAAD.
“It is significant that Vice President Biden spoke about the importance of Will & Grace in his journey toward acceptance, since we know that the media plays a key role in helping people understand that denying any loving couple the chance at happiness and security that comes only through marriage is not only hurtful, it’s downright un-American,” Herndon said.
“I’ve known Vice President Biden since interning for him in the Senate in 1976. The personal and thoughtful way he has spoken about his coming to support the freedom to marry reflects the same journey that a majority of Americans have now made as they’ve gotten to know gay families, opened their hearts and changed their minds,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
“President Obama should join the Vice President, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Laura Bush, and so many others in forthright support for the freedom to marry," Wolfson said.
This morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined Biden in speaking out in favor of marriage equality.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Duncan told journalist Mark Halperin that he supported marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
HRC’s Solmonese praised Duncan for his candor.
"Arne Duncan joins Joe Biden now in embracing civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples. Duncan speaking out is particularly important given his role as the nation’s top education official. In supporting marriage equality, he communicates to all students that they deserve an equal shot at the American dream of love, family and equality. There’s no doubt in my mind that the president shares these values and that’s why it’s time for him to speak out in favor of marriage equality as well,” Solmonese said.
“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement this morning adds him to the drumbeat of Obama Administration members coming out in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples,” said Wolfson of Freedom to Marry.
“Like Vice President Biden, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Laura Bush, and the majority of Americans, Secretary Duncan knows that loving and committed gay couples seek the freedom to marry for the same mix of reasons as other couples: to make a vow to one another, to share life with the person they love, and to protect their families. Standing up for the freedom to marry is not just the right thing to do, it's the right thing politically, and it's time for the President to stand on the right side of history.”
Duncan becomes the third member of the Obama Cabinet to support marriage equality. In November, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was the first to express his support for marriage rights for gays and lesbians.